Maria Esther Bueno was born on Oct. 11, 1939, in São Paulo, and grew up across the street from a tennis club. Both her father and mother played, and she was handling a racket at age 6. “I had a lot of natural talent, but I had to work hard too,” she told The Times. She attributed her speed on the court to having trained with men.
In 1959, she won her first titles at Wimbledon and the United States Nationals — an amateur tournament and predecessor to the United States Open. She was voted female athlete of the year in a nationwide poll of sportswriters conducted by The Associated Press.
Bueno captured the Wimbledon singles crowns in 1959, 1960 and 1964 and the United States Nationals at Forest Hills, Queens, in 1959, 1963, 1964 and 1966. She was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1959, 1960, 1964 and 1966.
Her last major title came in 1968 when she won the doubles title at the United States Open with Margaret Court, who was among her greatest rivals. Her final tournament victory was at the Japan Open in 1974. Bueno essentially retired after the 1977 season although she did play in mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1980.
Bueno’s career was marked by illness and injuries. She was bedridden for eight months by hepatitis she contracted in 1961 and she had knee surgery in 1965. She was sidelined between 1969 and 1974 by severe cramps and pain in her right arm that required multiple operations, a problem she attributed to putting too many demands on herself.
She was later a commentator at major tennis tournaments for Brazilian television. Upon her death, the country’s president, Michel Temer, said Bueno “will always be remembered as the No. 1 of tennis in the hearts of all Brazilians.”